Hillary sees a dictator (and a small crowd) in Iowa

Council Bluffs, Iowa -- In her reIn Vised stump speech today to kickoff a five-day "Hil-a-copter" tour of Iowa, Hillary Clinton added a new riff to her latest meditation on change.

After repeating the riff she debuted at Thursday's Iowa Public Television debate that change must be worked for, not hoped for (Barack Obama), or demanded (John Edwards), Clinton added that to achieve necessary "change" a president needed to know "when to stand your ground and when to find common ground. " Lest anyone miss the point, Clinton added the rhetorical candied cherry. "This is not a dictatorship.
It was safe to assume this was a direct reference to John Edwards. But assumptions usually work out poorly. Clinton staff confirmed Edwards was the target.

Clinton drew (by my count) fewer than 250 people to her much-ballyhooed "Every County Counts " launch at Thomas Jefferson High School here. Twenty minutes before the event was scheduled to start, the room was nearly half empty. But even when the crowd trickled in to fill the available seats, all the tell-tale signs of advance team "shrinking the room" tactics were well in evidence.

The rows had double-First-Class leg room. The aisles were unnaturally large. Clinton's podium was shoved into the room. And the press corps and risers were unnecessarily close to Clinton (unless, of course, the idea was to make the room look small and packed on TV cameras). Big swaths of unused space was filled up by three tables of coffee and cookies (who said small crowds are all bad). In characteristic Clinton fashion, the event started late -- 30 minutes late this time.

Team Clinton announced the event on Friday and brought former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey from neighboring Nebraska (just across the river from here) in to announce his endorsement. Kerrey appeared genuine and that struck me. I well remember his often biting criticism President Bill Clinton's political timidity.

"Please don't let us down," Kerrey implored, speaking to potential caucus-going Democrats. "We are counting on you."

Then Kerrey, one of those politicians least likely to invoke prayer in public, concluded with this: "I give you my senator and soon, I pray, our president."

Despite Kerrey's presence and all the advance hoo-hah of the Hil-a-copter, the event still felt underwhelming -- especially since camp Clinton pointed to it as a demonstration of newfound energy.

Clinton gave it her best, promising to bring "perseverance and perspiration" to the Oval Office. "Our campaign is energized, we're picking up momentum and we're going all the way to January 3rd."

On the road to January 3rd, Clinton will no doubt keep an eye peeled for looming Democratic dictators.